Today in History: September 13
As he grew somewhat sleepy but was still conscious, figures began to appear before his eyes…. They were all grotesques. All of the men and women the writer had ever known had become grotesques.
The grotesques were not all horrible. Some were amusing, some almost beautiful…. For an hour the procession of grotesques passed before the eyes of the old man, and then, although it was a painful thing to do, he crept out of bed and began to write. Some one of the grotesques had made a deep impression on his mind and he wanted to describe it.
American writer Sherwood Anderson was born on September 13, 1876, in Camden, Ohio. He is best known for his short stories—"brooding Midwest tales"—which reveal "their author's sympathetic insight into the thwarted lives of ordinary people."* Between World War I and World War II, Anderson helped to break down formulaic approaches to writing, influencing a subsequent generation of writers, most notably Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. Anderson, who lived in New Orleans for a brief time, befriended Faulkner there in 1924 and encouraged him to write about his home county in Mississippi.
The third child of a harness-maker and house painter who had a fondness for storytelling, Anderson received an uneven education. As a young man, he was intent on establishing his financial independence. He married, had three children, and worked, with growing dissatisfaction, in the business world until 1912, when he suffered a nervous breakdown.
Between 1912 and 1922, Anderson worked as a copywriter at a Chicago advertising agency and wrote fiction in his spare time. In Chicago, he encountered writers Carl Sandburg, Floyd Dell, Theodore Dreiser, and others associated with the Chicago literary renaissance, a flowering of letters sustained by a group of young writers many of whom, like Anderson, had come of age in small midwestern towns in the late nineteenth century. The movement, which flourished from approximately 1912 to 1925, began as early as 1893, when several young midwestern writers were drawn together in Chicago for the opening of the 1893 World's Fair.
Anderson's first novel, Windy McPherson's Son, published in 1916 through the efforts of Theodore Dreiser and Floyd Dell, is an autobiographical work about a young man's success in the business world that he later rejects. Anderson's 1919 collection of short stories, Winesburg, Ohio (external link), is considered his finest work. In 1921, Anderson met writer Gertrude Stein, whose innovative writing influenced his development as a young writer. Anderson would later write in the autobiographical A Story Teller's Story that the occasion of his reading Stein's Tender Buttons was perhaps the first time he "really fell in love with words, wanted to give each word I used every chance to show itself at its best."
Beyond the last house on Trunion Pike in Winesburg there is a great stretch of open fields…. In the late afternoon in the hot summers when the road and the fields are covered with dust, a smoky haze lies over the great flat basin of land. To look across it is like looking out across the sea. In the spring when the land is green the effect is somewhat different. The land becomes a wide green billiard table on which tiny human insects toil up and down.
- Search American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 on rural life to recover first-person accounts of the rural culture that inspired Anderson and other figures of the Chicago literary renaissance.
- Many of the same themes appear in the work of turn-of-the-century entertainers. Search on rural life in American Variety Stage: Vaudeville and Popular Entertainment, 1870-1920 to find popular interpretations of the tensions between rural and urban life at the dawn of the twentieth century.
- For portraits of American authors, poets, and playwrights, browse the occupation index of Creative Americans: Portraits by Carl Van Vechten, 1932-1964.
- Search the Today in History Archive on writer, poet, or playwright for additional features on American writers, including Carson McCullers, William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and Langston Hughes.
* John A. Garraty, ed, "Sherwood Anderson," Dictionary of American Biography, Supplement 3: 1941-1945 (New York: American Council of Learned Societies), 1973.
And the rockets' red glare,
the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night
that our flag was still there.
O! say does that star-spangled
banner yet wave,
O'er the land of the free
and the home of the brave.
Francis Scott Key, "The Star-Spangled Banner"
As the evening of September 13, 1814, approached, Francis Scott Key was detained in Baltimore harbor on board a British vessel. A young lawyer, he had come to negotiate the release of an American physician from British forces—they were released to their ship. Throughout the night and into the early hours of the next morning, Key watched as the British bombed nearby Fort McHenry with military rockets. As dawn broke, he was amazed to find the Stars and Stripes, tattered but intact, still flying above the fort.
British forces had disembarked on September 12 at the mouth of the Patapsco River to begin an assault on the city of Baltimore. The following day, British Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane commenced a naval bombardment of the fort, the last remaining barrier to the city. The siege of Baltimore, which came close on the heels of the British occupation of Washington, D.C., was a turning point in the War of 1812.
Turned back on land and at sea, the British abandoned their attempt to capture Baltimore on September 14. Four months later, they signed the Treaty of Ghent, which brought an end to the war.
Key's experience during the bombardment of Fort McHenry inspired him to pen the words to "The Star-Spangled Banner." He adapted his lyrics to the tune of a popular drinking song, "To Anacreon in Heaven," and the song soon became the de facto national anthem of the United States of America, although Congress did not officially recognize it as such until 1931.
The tattered flag that flew at Fort McHenry has been on display for many years at the Smithsonian Institution. The Star-Spangled Banner Campaign (external link) of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History seeks to preserve this icon, whose cotton and woolen fibers have been endangered by time and exposure. When preservation is completed and the museum is reopened (scheduled for the summer of 2008), the flag will be displayed in a new flag room.
Learn more about the flag of the United States and the national anthem in American Memory:
- Search on Star Spangled Banner in the following collections to view different copies of the national anthem, some with colorfully illustrated covers. Search on patriotic music or patriotic song for more examples of musical Americana.
- Search on star spangled banner in Music, Theater & Dance to view manuscripts, songsheets, and sheet music, as well as to listen to sound recordings of the national anthem.
- Learn more about the history of the American flag by visiting the Today in History features for June 14 and April 12.
- Search across the American Memory collections on the word flag to read stories and see photographs and films of "Old Glory."
- Visit A Guide to the War of 1812 for a wide variety of material associated with the war, including manuscripts, broadsides, pictures, and government documents. The guide links both to Library of Congress sites as well as external links.